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BOUCHER DE NIVERVILLE, JOSEPH (sometimes called Joseph-Claude; he signed Chevalier Niverville), army and militia officer, seigneur, Indian Department official, and office holder; b. 22 Sept. 1715 in Chambly (Que.), son of Jean-Baptiste Boucher* de Niverville and Marguerite-Thérèse Hertel de La Fresnière; m. 5 Oct. 1757 Marie-Josephte Châtelin in Trois-Rivières (Que.), and they had 11 children; d. there 30 Aug. 1804.

Joseph Boucher de Niverville began his military career as a cadet in the colonial regular troops in 1734 when he took part in the expedition that Nicolas-Joseph de Noyelles* de Fleurimont led against the Foxes. During the next two years he took advantage of his sojourn in the Detroit area to engage in the fur trade with goods supplied by Montreal merchant Pierre Guy*. In 1737 Niverville was assigned to serve under Gaspard Adhémar* de Lantagnac, the commandant at Fort Chambly. Two years later he went to Louisiana with Charles Le Moyne* de Longueuil’s detachment, which was sent to subdue the Chickasaws. He obtained an expectancy of an ensigncy in 1742, and on 1 May 1743 the king granted him his commission as second ensign.

The War of the Austrian Succession, which spread to North America in 1744, gave Niverville an opportunity to distinguish himself. The following year he campaigned in Acadia, where he took seven prisoners and managed to capture an eight-gun British ship, boarding it with the help of four Indians. Between mid March and mid May 1746 he led a party of Abenaki warriors to within about 30 leagues of Boston, Mass., returning to Quebec with two English prisoners, one of whom he himself had captured. In early June he left Quebec for Acadia with the detachment under Jean-Baptiste-Nicolas-Roch de Ramezay* which was to meet the French squadron commanded by the Duc d’Anville [La Rochefoucauld*]; his younger brother, François Boucher de Niverville (Nebourvele) Grandpré, with whom he has often been confused, was also with the expedition. During this campaign, which lasted some six months, Niverville took part in the raid led by Joseph-Michel Legardeur* de Croisille et de Montesson against the British detachment at Port-La-Joie (Fort Amherst, P.E.I).

Niverville carried out half a dozen missions during 1747, from New England to the government of Montreal. In the spring, he took a raiding party of some 10 Canadians and 60 Abenakis through the country south of Lake Champlain into Massachusetts. Although unable to bring back prisoners, the party destroyed five forts and about a hundred houses, killing six or seven hundred horned cattle, sheep, and pigs as well. This expedition also brought back to the authorities in Quebec the news that the enemy seemed to be preparing to attack Fort Saint-Frédéric (near Crown Point, N.Y.). During another mission not long after, Niverville captured two Mohawks, and at the end of June he was one of the detachment under Louis de La Corne* that intercepted a group of Indian, English, and Dutch raiders at the Cascades (near Île des Cascades, Que.). Appointed ensign on 15 Feb. 1748, Niverville took command of various militia units in the government of Montreal during that year. He also led two war parties into New England, one of which attacked Fort Massachusetts (North Adams, Mass.) in August but did not succeed in taking it.

The year 1749 was a transitional one in Niverville’s career. Along with his two young brothers, Niverville Grandpré and Pierre-Louis Boucher de Niverville Montizambert, he ranged through the Ohio valley with the detachment commanded by Pierre-Joseph Céloron* de Blainville. He barely escaped death during this campaign when he was captured by some Shawnees at Sonioto (Portsmouth, Ohio) along with fellow soldier Philippe-Thomas Chabert* de Joncaire. Shortly after his return to Montreal, he was ordered by Governor Jacques-Pierre de Taffanel* de La Jonquière to join an expedition set up under Jacques Legardeur* de Saint-Pierre to search for the western sea. The party left Montreal early in June 1750 and reached Fort La Reine (Portage la Prairie, Man.) that autumn. Niverville was to establish a new post west of Fort Paskoya (Le Pas, Man.) to serve as a base for an expedition west towards the Rockies, and he set out again almost immediately. On 29 May 1751 he dispatched two canoes with ten men from Fort Paskoya; he became seriously ill, however, and was unable to join them as he had intended. His men built Fort La Jonquière (probably in the vicinity of Nipawin, Sask.), but when they returned to Paskoya, Niverville was still in critical condition. It was not until spring 1753 that he was able to leave the fort. He succeeded in overtaking Legardeur’s party just before it arrived at Lake Superior, and the expedition reached Montreal near the end of the summer without having found the western sea.

On 25 Jan. 1754 Niverville acquired half the seigneury of Chambly, buying out his brothers and sisters with whom he had inherited it jointly two years earlier; the other half had gone to the eldest brother, Jean-Baptiste. Forced to rest as a result of the illness he had contracted in the west, Niverville did not resume active service until May 1755, when he took command of the region of Michilimackinac (Mackinaw City, Mich.). He was recalled by August, however, to lead the Abenaki contingent in the army under Jean-Armand Dieskau*. Promoted lieutenant on 17 March 1756, he again headed up the Abenakis the following year at the capture of Fort William Henry (also called Fort George, now Lake George, N.Y.). In 1758 Niverville spent most of his time recruiting Indian warriors but saw action in July at the battle of Carillon (near Ticonderoga, N.Y.). Late in May 1759 he was sent to Baie-Saint-Paul (Que.) at the head of a detachment of Abenakis and Canadian militia to prevent an enemy landing. When the British proceeded upriver, Niverville returned to Quebec and fought in its defence; he was with the French army when it withdrew to Montreal. A month or so earlier, on 20 August, his young wife and his mother-in-law had been slightly wounded by their Indian slave Marie*, an incident which resulted in what seems to have been the last sentence of capital punishment under the French régime.

On 28 April 1760, Niverville took part in the battle of Sainte-Foy. In the fall of 1761 he embarked for France along with his brother Niverville Grandpré, who had been the last Canadian officer to surrender to the British in Acadia, several months after the capitulation of Montreal.

Although he received the cross of Saint-Louis on 17 July 1763, Niverville was disappointed at the treatment given the Canadian officers in France and that November he was back in Trois-Rivières. On 21 Feb. 1766 he attended the assembly of seigneurs of the Montreal district convened by Governor Murray*. Early the following year, he became owner of almost all the lands that had belonged to his deceased father-in-law: the “marquisat Du Sablé,” the seigneury of Sainte-Marguerite, the fief of La Poterie, and an unnamed fief. These new holdings, all at or near Trois-Rivières, greatly increased his income, which since his return had essentially depended on the dues from half the seigneury of Chambly. In 1767 as well, Niverville was a member of the grand jury that heard the bill of indictment brought by Thomas Walker* against Captain Daniel Disney. On this occasion he swore the oath of allegiance to the British crown, as did three other knights of Saint-Louis who were also members of the jury: François-Marie Picoté* de Belestre, Pierre-Roch de Saint-Ours Deschaillons, and Claude-Pierre Pécaudy* de Contrecœur. This action gained him a place among the 12 Canadian seigneurs proposed by Governor Guy Carleton in 1769 for a possible legislative council, but his name was not retained.

Despite his 60 years Niverville took an active part in the defence of the province during the American invasion of 1775–76. It was probably at this time that he was granted the post of superintendent of Indians for the Trois-Rivières district, which he was to retain until 1796. In September 1775, on Carleton’s orders, he left Montreal at the head of a small group of Indians and Canadians to relieve the garrison of Fort St Johns on the Richelieu, then being besieged by Richard Montgomery*. He encountered an American detachment at La Prairie, however, and turned back to Montreal without engaging it in combat. On 11 November, after the capitulation of Fort St Johns, Carleton abandoned Montreal to head for Quebec with the British regulars. Delayed at Lavaltrie for several days by contrary winds, Carleton learned that the Americans had already established batteries at Sorel. By means of a stratagem devised by Jean-Baptiste Bouchette, during the night of the 16th the governor, his aide-de-camp, Charles-Louis Tarieu de Lanaudière, and Niverville passed by Sorel and reached Trois-Rivières, where Niverville left the group. During the winter the invaders, who occupied Trois-Rivières, did not molest royalists like Niverville but merely confiscated their weapons. After the British fleet arrived at Quebec in the spring of 1776, the Americans fell back on Sorel, and then began a counter-offensive, sending Brigadier-General William Thompson to launch a surprise attack on Trois-Rivières. On the morning of 8 June Thompson’s advance guard was surprised and taken prisoner by a patrol under Niverville, without being able to give the alarm. When the American army arrived, it faced the steady fire of defenders who were ready for it see François Guillot*, dit Larose]. Niverville’s part in the defence of the province brought him a lieutenant’s half-pay.

Appointed a justice of the peace in 1780 or a little before, Niverville discharged this responsibility at least until April 1798 when he was retired because of his advanced age. While in office Niverville was involved in several notable events in the life of Trois-Rivières, such as the 1787 inquiry into the suicide of Dolly Manuel, one of the Hart family’s servants, the drawing up of regulations for the town market in 1791, and the reorganization of the Fire Society in 1796.

On 4 March 1790 Niverville was appointed colonel of the militia battalion for Trois-Rivières and the area to the north. On 12 August he had Jonathan and Joseph Sills and Malcolm Fraser Jr imprisoned for refusing to report for a militia exercise. This action resulted in his being disparaged in an anonymous pamphlet, probably written by Jonathan Sills, entitled La Bastille septentrionale ou les trois sujets britanniques opprimés . . . and published in Montreal and Trois-Rivières in 1791. He was even sued by his “victims.” Defended by lawyer Arthur Davidson, he had the complete support of the general staff in this affair and does not seem to have been seriously disturbed by it. In 1800 an ensign was assigned to act as his adjutant, and he was granted 1,200 acres of land. He did not retire until June 1803 and at the time of his death the following year he was the last knight of Saint-Louis in Canada.

Niverville’s military career was without doubt one of the longest of any Canadian officer in the 18th century. He participated in many important expeditions which took him to the eastern, southern, and western limits of New France’s vast territory. After the conquest he soon gained the new authorities’ confidence and won several favours; however, the importance of these was exaggerated by Michel-Eustache-Gaspard-Alain Chartier* de Lotbinière when he wrote to a friend in September 1802 that the Chevalier Niverville lived on “the blessings of the government which is very generous and under which Canadians are in general quite happy.” Niverville’s decision to settle in a secondary town like Trois-Rivières along with his lack of interest in politics – he confined himself to signing the petition of Canadian seigneurs opposing the creation of a house of assembly in 1788 and to acting as president of the local committee of the association founded in 1794 to support British rule in the province – partially explain why he did not play as prominent a role after the conquest as did other members of the Canadian nobility.

Pierre Dufour

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Pierre Dufour, “BOUCHER DE NIVERVILLE, JOSEPH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 24, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/boucher_de_niverville_joseph_5E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/boucher_de_niverville_joseph_5E.html
Author of Article:   Pierre Dufour
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1983
Year of revision:   1983
Access Date:   February 24, 2024